How Indian Yoga Protects You From Obesity And Heart Disease

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Heart disease is one of the biggest threats to your way of life. It can cost you your job, your money, your health, your mind, as well as your very life itself. Over 1 million people die every year from heart disease and those who don’t die face a severe drop in the quality of life as they are confined to a wheelchair and medications. Fortunately, advances in modern medicine have made the recovery from heart disease better than ever before, but is this enough? Is there an alternative to the modern pharmacotherapy and its undesired side effects?

Woman performing Yoga
Woman performing Yoga


More than 15 million Americans practice yoga. When you look at it carefully, it’s easy to see why it is so popular. Compared to drugs and other modern advances, yoga is easy, inexpensive, can be done in the privacy of your home and has no harmful side effects of any kind.

Originating in India well over 4 thousand years ago, yoga is now more popular than ever in the industrialized Western countries. Yoga alternates deep breathing exercises (pranayamas) with poses (asanas). Although a number of different types of yoga exists, the three most practised are known as Hatha, Raja, and Mantra.

Hatha is the most forceful of all the yogas. That means that it is the most aerobic. It is also the most common one throughout the US.

Raja is also called classical yoga, and it is the second most popular yoga in America. It practices more on meditative poses.

Mantra is the yoga you would want to use when you’re trying to relax and ease your troubled mind. Mantra as the name would suggest, accomplishes this by focusing on sounds or chants.

Evidence that the ancient practice of yoga is beneficial in many ways has been empirical so far. Almost all people can practice it. Even older people or those who have mobility problems or are out of shape can perform yoga. Doctors, on the other hand, have been known to comment on the improved health after a patient begins yoga. However, until quite recently there’s been very little research to scientifically support the health benefits of this ancient practice.

A Compilation of Research Findings On Health Benefits Of Yoga

Growing scientific evidence supports that yoga reduces the risk for heart disease as well as Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS), a contributing factor to diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Yoga can even help improve the symptoms of people who are already suffering from heart disease.

A few years ago, Dr Kim E. Innes published a systematic review that studied how yoga can affect the risk for CVD. The results suggest that yoga may reduce IRS-related risk factors for CVD.

There are many factors that contribute to heart disease, and most are related to IRS.
Symptoms of insulin resistance syndrome include:

• Insulin resistance
• Glucose intolerance
• Lipid abnormalities
• High blood pressure
• Visceral fat (belly fat)

Because there is such a strong correlation between mind and body, people who have “type A personalities” are also at risk even with no symptoms at all. Type A behavior was first described as a potential risk factor in coronary disease in the 1950s by cardiologist Meyer Friedman. That is one of the things that makes yoga so powerful. No other exercise focuses on this mind-body relationship the way yoga does.

The Scientific Studies

Dr Innes systematically examined all the peer-reviewed published studies from 1970 onward that focused on yoga and good health. Of the 70 studies that were eligible, 63% were done between the time period of 1990 and 2003.

Fifty-one of these studies focused on yoga’s effects on lipid profiles, insulin resistance, weight loss, blood pressure and composition. Thirteen studies concentrated on the effects of yoga on insulin resistance. Eighteen clinical trials conducted in six countries focused on the effect of yoga on body measurements regarding heart disease. Fourteen of these studies showed that yoga improves lipid profiles.

The Findings….

Are you wondering what all the studies found when put together? Here are the results:

• Insulin resistance decreased as a result of practicing yoga
• Most studies showed that type-2 diabetics and people with hypertension had significant improvement.
• There was a decrease in fasting glucose (blood sugar levels) up to 33%. High fasting glucose is an indicator of diabetes.
• There was a decrease in total cholesterol up to 25%.
• There was a reduction in triglycerides up to 28%.
• Blood pressure decreased
• HDL, also known as good cholesterol, increased.
• LDL (bad cholesterol) had a drop up to 26%.
• Sleep quality improved
• Body weight decreased between up to 14% after practicing yoga

The studies that produced these results came from programs that focused on asanas, (poses) and pranayamas, (focused breath) and ranged in duration anywhere from one month to a year.

Yoga, Stress & Oxygen

When a doctor or researcher talks about stress, what they’re really talking about is oxidative stress, the balance between the production of harmful reactive oxygen and the body’s ability to readily repair the resulting damage. Oxidative stress causes free radicals to increase within the body and cause damage to cells and genes.

Yoga increases oxygen to the brain and other cells and supports naturally the productions of antioxidants. Antioxidants are what your body uses to fight free radicals.

Of the 70 studies reviewed, 5 addressed the impact of yoga on stress and oxygen levels. The results are very promising.

• Yoga reduces stress
• Increases anti-oxidants
• Decreases the amount of free radicals in your system
• Enhances coping abilities
• Reduces depression symptoms
• Removes anxiety symptoms
• Reduces anger and tension and fatigue
• Improves sleep

Although it is not clearly understood why yoga works the way it does, there are two reasons suggested for why it works. One of the things yoga does is, it stimulates the vagus nerve, which innervates organs in the neck, thorax and abdomen, resulting in a better function of the heart and lungs. When the vagus nerve is healthy, everything else is healthy along with it. In addition, yoga promotes a feeling of overall well-being which by itself relieves the effects of stress, strengthens the immune system and lowers blood pressure

This is why yoga’s effects are so far-reaching. Not only does it help the heart, lungs, and every other part of the body, it reduces stress and makes you better able to cope. The empirical evidence of 15 million people who practice yoga is now backed by 34 years of research.

Yoga and Weight Loss

A number of studies have documented the effect of yoga on reducing body weight in overweight people.

The latest study, published in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing, showed that postpartum women that participated in a yoga and pilates exercise program experienced a significant decrease in depression, body weight, and fat mass.

A 2012 recent study published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy showed that a weight loss program based on Kripalu yoga, a form of Hatha yoga, improved stress management, and promoted better nutrition behaviors, and weight loss in overweight/obese individuals.

Obese women who participated in a 3-month yoga treatment program for binge eating perceived a significant reduction in the amount of food they consumed, and a shift toward healthier food choices throughout the program.


A lot of research has been published about yoga and the effect on the body. The investigation covered issues from insulin resistance to heart health, pre-diabetes markers, respiration, lipid profiles, obesity, weight loss, and stress.

The results, based on 4 decades of research, are overwhelmingly positive. Some of the benefits of yoga manifest as:

• Weight loss/fat loss
• Decrease in the rate of breathing and heartbeat
• Decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone, high cortisol=high weight)
• Decrease in catecholamine (Fight-or-flight hormones that cause anxiety)
• Decrease in the activity of enzyme renin (low renin=low blood pressure)
• Stronger response of the heart to stress
• Able to cope with stress more easily

In conclusion, anyone who is worried about heart disease, diabetes, or weight problems should consider incorporating yoga exercises in their lifestyle. After all, yoga is much less expensive and much safer than either drugs or surgery. With so many benefits to gain, and almost no side effects to worry about, yoga is a promising age-old solution, to a fast-growing modern problem.

Indians performing Yoga Asana in 1688
An early illustration of Indians performing Yoga Asana in 1688

Top Yoga Centers in India

With all its health benefits, Yoga has won the West. Many people travel to India every year to study yoga in a traditional setting. For the truly devoted who want to take advanced lessons and integrate the Yoga philosophy, here are some of the top Yoga centers in India.

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune
It is the heart and soul of Iyengar Yoga. The institute is run by Yogacharya BKS Iyengar and his family. At 95, BKS Iyengar is a living legend who teaches the wisdom of yoga sutras like nobody else.

Ashtanga Institute, Mysore
Founded by Yogacharaya Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, and now run by his daughter Sharaswathi and grandson Sharath, the institute teaches Ashtanga yoga. Sharath, 42, was introduced to Yoga at preschool age. Today, he is the director of the institute and wakes up at 1am to complete his practice before his first students arrive.

Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh
Lying on the banks of the Ganga river, Parmarth Niketan is the largest religious retreat in Rishikesh. With a capacity of 1000 rooms, it provides a great place for meditation and prayer. Classes for beginners, and teachers as well, run throughout the year.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai
Whether you are an overstressed executive or overworked employee, an exhausted pregnant mother or a confused child, the institute caters to your individual needs. It teaches yoga from the ground up, starting from a holistic theoretical basis and moving to the exercise and fitness aspect of the practice.

Bihar School of Yoga, Munger
Situated on a hill that overlooks Ganga, the Bihar School of Yoga is like an oasis in the technological desert of the 21st century, being one of a few centers that blend the spiritual side of Yoga to a scientific and academic approach. Courses are available in both English and Hindi. Admissions are fairly selective as applicants must pass a test along with an interview.

About the author

Matt Denos
Matt writes mainly about diets and weight loss programs in his blog where he offers a April 2013 promotion for Weight Watchers. With a strong academic background in health sciences Matt is fascinated by the health aspects of the Yoga practice. He regularly posts findings related to weight loss and diet programs. A writer, blogger, and biologist, Matt loves traveling above all. He is fascinated by the history and people of India. Prafull, Swati, Kanchan, Praveen, are only a few of his friends that first taught him the salutation of “Namaste” and have invited him to visit India in his next trip to Asia.

[1] Community-based postpartum exercise program.
[2] Psychological well-being, health behaviors, and weight loss among participants in a residential, Kripalu yoga-based weight loss program.
[3] “Overeating is not about the food”: women describe their experience of a yoga treatment program for binge eating.

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